CPG 3676
Author Apollinaris
Greek Text Y. Courtonne. Saint Basile. Lettres III. (Paris 1966), 203-204.
H. de Riedmatten. La correspondance entre Basile de Cesaree et Apollinaire de Laodicee I in JThS, N.S. 7 (1956), 222-224.
Note This letter of Apollinaris to Basil circulated with these of Basil to Apollinaris, and so they are included below in italics for context. Note also that the authenticity of all these letters has been debated but never conclusively demonstrated either way.

To my most venerable master Apollinaris. Basil.

Previously we sent to you concerning the obscure things in the Scriptures and we were delighted both in what you sent and in what you promised. But now a greater concern has come to us over greater things, and for it we have no other partner and protector among men today to call upon like the one which God has given us in you, both accurate and accessible in knowledge and word.

Therefore since those who confuse everything and fill the world with words and enquiries have cast out the word “essence” on the grounds that it is foreign to the divine oracles, please deem it worthy to indicate to us how the fathers used it and whether you find it placed nowhere in Scripture. For they spit upon the “daily bread” (Mt 6:11; Lk 11:3) and the “chosen people” (Tit 2:14) [the words “daily” and “chosen” in Greek are both prefixed forms of the word “essence”] and anything of this kind as having nothing in common. But then also about this “consubstantial,” (which is why I think those who deeply slander “essence” construct this argument—in order to leave no place for “consubstantial”), please be willing to distinguish for us more broadly what sense it has and how it is said in a healthy manner in the cases of things for which is seen no common overlying kind or pre-existent underlying material—no breaking off of the first to the second. So please be willing to articulate to us more broadly how was it necessary to say the Son is consubstantial to the Father, without falling into any of the mentioned senses. For we have supposed that whatever we take the essence of the Father to be according to its foundation, it is entirely necessary that we also take to be that of the Son.

Therefore if someone should say that the essence of the Father is intelligent, eternal, unbegotten light, then he will say also that the essence of the Only-begotten is intelligent, eternal, begotten light. It seems to me that the phrase “exactly similar” fits better for this kind of understanding than “consubstantial.” For I think it would be rightly said that lights which do not differ in being greater or lesser are not the same thing, for each one is in its own boundary of essence, but accurately are exactly similar according to essence. So it is necessary either to give articulation to these understandings or to instead take up other better ones like a wise doctor, healing what is sick and sustaining what is unstable, for we have shown you what is in our heart. Strengthen us in every manner. I great the brothers who are with your Piety, and I ask them to pray with you on our behalf so that we may be saved. Our comrade Gregory, choosing life with his parents, is with them. May you be most healthy and guard us, helping us with both prayers and knowledge.

In a God-loving manner you believe, and in a studious manner you seek, and so eagerness is owed from us because of love, even if sufficiency in reason does not follow because of both our lacking and the enormity of the matter.

“One essence” and “in one boundary” is not said only with respect to number, as you say, but also in its proper sense of two or more people who are all united in kind. So for this reason two or more are the same according to essence, as also all people are Adam because they are one. And the Son of David is David because he is the same as him. Accordingly, you rightly say that the Son is that which the Father is according to essence. For in no other way would the Son be God, since the Father is confessed to be the one and only God, as both Adam, the ancestor of mankind, is one and David, the founder of the kingly kind, is one.

For this reason also, however, in the case of the Father and Son, that there is one overlying kind or one underlying material is removed from suspicion when we compare the kind-beginning properties of the highest beginning and the kinds from the kind-beginners to that only-begotten child from the one beginning. For within reason these kinds of things come to similarity. Just as for Adam, as God-formed, and us, as humanly begotten, there is not one overlying kind, but he is the beginning of men. And there is no common material of both him and us, but he is the starting-point of all men. And he is not conceived of as David before David and the kind from him, for the property of David begins from David and he is the starting-point of all those from him. But while these things fail in that there are other novelties of all men as compared to each other as brothers, in the case of the Father and the Son there is no such thing, but the Father is entirely the beginning and the Son is from the beginning.

Therefore there is no breaking off from the first one to the second one as in the case of bodies, but a generation. For the individuality of the Father is not broken off to the Son, but that of the Son has come forth from that of the Father. The same one in differentness, and a different one in sameness. Accordingly the Father is said to be in the Son and the Son in the Father. For the differentness will not singularly guard the truth of his sonship and the sameness in turn the indivisibility of the hypostasis, but the two are interwoven and united: the same differently and a different one in like manner, to force the expression even though it does not arrive at an explanation. For the Lord confirms for us the understanding by presenting the Father as “greater” (Jn 14:28) in equality and the Son as having equality in descent. This has taught us to understand the Son in the same form but in lowered light, not diminishing the essence but considering the same one as excelling even in lowering.

For those who represent the essence without any sameness at all bring in similarity from the outside and attribute it to the Son. Certainly this passes over to people who have been made similar to God. But those who know that such similarity is fitting for made things join the Son to the Father in sameness, but in a lowered sameness. Thus he is not the Father or a part of the Father, which is capably presented by saying “The Son is another.” So he is God, not as that one but as from that one, not the prototype but the image. He is consubstantial, chiefly and uniquely over all things. He is the one and only begotten one, not as things of the same kind, not as things broken off, but as from the one kind and form of the deity with an undivided and bodiless procession, according to which that which begets, while remaining in the begetting individuality, went forth into the begotten individuality.

To my master, the most venerable brother, Apollinaris. Basil.

We completely missed the opportunities through which it was possible to address your Piety, although we gladly would have responded to those letters. For we were delighted that you silently obtained delight in them. For really you alone seemed to us to be wise while the shadows of the interpreters dart around, in this way you lead the explanation towards the secure understanding. And now certainly the desire for knowledge of the divine oracles even more so clings to my soul. So I hesitate to set before you any of the things in question so that I do not seem to be filled outspokenness beyond measure. But I cannot endure being silent again, being in anguish and yet desiring to grasp. So It seemed best to me to ask you, o excellent one, whether we have permission to ask any of the things in question or we must keep silent. Whatever you answer, we will observe it in the future. May we possess you throughout everything in good health and good spirits and praying for us.

Translated by AMJ

Last updated: 8-16-2013

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